Monday, June 18, 2012

Citizens United and campaign finance reform

John McCain pisses me off at times. At other times, he is truly admirable. Recently, he called for Republicans to join Democrats in opposing the Citizens United decision.
The worst-case scenarios raised by critics of the Citizens United decision, namely an explosion in unlimited campaign spending with little transparency, are quickly coming to pass this election cycle. McCain warned earlier this month that Sheldon Adelson, who has contributed over $36 million to Republican groups this year and is reportedly planning another $35 million to GOP non-profits that don’t disclose donors, was in effect bringing “foreign money” to the political process since much of his fortune comes from casinos abroad.

Whitehouse and other Democratic senators are planning to bring the latest version of the DISCLOSE Act, which would require anonymous big-money groups to disclose donors and require more information in political ads about their funding, to the floor for debate next month. While it has little hope of passing (the Senate GOP filibustered an earlier bill in 2010), Whitehouse believes it’s a critical step in building public pressure to eventually force some action on the issue.
Two points:

1. Am I the only one who can recall the time when Mitch McConnell, the most steadfast opponent of campaign finance reform, routinely said that the answer was disclosure and transparency? Make the names of the donors public, said McConnell, and all will be well.

The story has changed. Now, donors must be anonymous -- otherwise, we would be impinging on their right to free speech. You, however, have no right to be anonymous when you write a letter of complaint to your congresspersons. In fact, pretty much everything you do online can be traced.

2. The 2010 pseudofilibuster of the earlier DISCLOSE Act would have provided an excellent test case -- or, at least, an opportunity for some excellent political theater. Why didn't the Dems force the Republicans to conduct an actual filibuster on that occasion? I think even conservative Americans would have been appalled to see the Republicans go to such lengths on behalf of the rich.

As I've said in previous columns, if a genuine filibuster occurs, the Senate would have a rare opportunity to change its rules in order to get rid of the filibuster altogether. I've outlined the method for doing so in an earlier post; no-one has spotted any flaw in my argument. Unfortunately, few people read the Senate rules, which means that few people understand the mechanism for changing those rules.

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